Sunday, June 02, 2013

Keeping business in flight: American Aviation Services at Kellar-Sipes Regional Airport (KMKL), Jackson, Tennessee (With Video)

Bill Douglas owns American Aviation Inc. The company is located at McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport in Jackson. 
Photo Credit:  DAVID THOMAS/The Jackson Sun

June 1, 2013 8:49 PM 

Written by David Thomas, The Jackson Sun

A three-year military obligation gave Bill Douglas second thoughts about learning how to fly.

But a birthday gift later gave him all the inspiration he needed to be a pilot.

“When I was in the military, I had orders to go to helicopter school for one year,” Douglas said. “But I had a three-year obligation after that, so I backed out.”

Later, he told his wife Ann, now deceased, he wished he would have taken the military up on its offer.

“So she bought three lessons for me as a birthday present,” Douglas said. “And I credit her for getting me in this business.”

The three lessons parlayed into American Aviation Services Inc., owned by Douglas, who purchased the company from its four original owners in 1996.

“I had sold a business of my own,” Douglas said. “I decided I wanted to see if I could make a living flying. I started with the company in September 1989. They had a small-engine plane, and after one year, they expanded to two, twin-engine planes.”

Douglas said original flights were within a 400-mile radius.

“After we bought the first twin engine in probably 1991, our flights weren’t particularly any farther, but they carried more passengers in comfort.”

The larger aircraft allowed the company to haul freight, and occasional flights were booked for Chicago, Detroit, New York and Texas.

The company was founded by Austin Lewis from Humboldt, Steve Correa from Brownsville and Jackson’s Steve Williams and Steve Powell.

“Steve Powell was the one who ran the company, and the other three were silent partners,” Douglas said. “Steve was the pilot, and he sort of did it all.”

Douglas had a background in sales, but said none of the other partners had any experience in marketing.

“We were out knocking on doors at factories and businesses,” Douglas said. “I called on Porter Cable, Pringles (P&G), the (Jackson General) hospital and talked to them about the benefit of charter flights and found out it was a pretty easy sale.”

Douglas said sales were the reason the company’s inventory doubled in size.

There were also factors that Douglas had no control over. 

 “Due to the economy, it’s down to one,” Douglas said. “It’s a six-seat twin-engine plane. Ninety-percent is dedicated to business, and, unfortunately, that goes up and down just as the economy goes up and down.”

Douglas moved to Jackson when he was in junior high school. After his formal education, he ventured into another area of transportation.

“I was in the automobile business for 20 years on South Highland Avenue,” Douglas said.

The business was Bill Douglas Motor Sales.

“I worked for Jim Miles (now Victory) and Brown Chevrolet in Alamo, but went into business for myself,” Douglas said. “I had the opportunity to sell out, and someone hit me on the right day.”

That’s when the thought of flying for a living kept coming back to Douglas. The company he purchased is the second oldest charter in West Tennessee and the fourth oldest in the state.

While overnight expenses are figured into the expense of the charter, there are other advantages that help offset the cost for the traveler.

“We can fly in much closer areas,” Douglas said. “If a company was going to come into Humboldt, a charter can fly in, but a commercial flight cannot.”

Douglas said a normal business trip takes about three days, which is also a selling point for American Aviation.

“On a commercial flight, there’s one day for travel, one for the visit and one for the return home,” Douglas said. “Flying charter, you can visit and return home the same day, which eliminates car rental.”

Douglas keeps his plane in a hangar at McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport, which makes it convenient for those who hire him for his services.

“Some parts of the year there’s a little more production,” Douglas said. “We probably averaged 150 flights a year, but since the economy tanked, we fly sometimes eight to 10 times a month.”

Douglas said the charter industry also took a hit due to teleconference calls.

“(Companies) reduce the number of people they send out on projects, or they drive,” Douglas said. “Charter works well if you have over three people going … figuring time and expenses.”

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